But, the difference between a scientific and popularizing text lies elsewhere. Henri Bergson claims that while in common communication we’re after a result, with a scientific text we’re interested in the method. If you ask someone what the weather is like, you want to know if it’s nice out or raining, and you don’t care much about the way they find the information. But, in a scientific text, you’re trying to achieve something called the transparency of your method – the way you work and think has to be as visible as possible. It has to be possible to retrace your steps and do something that’s called “thought process reconstruction” or “replication research”.
This is the reason why scientific texts are often the most boring, demanding and least coherent. They have to contain a maximum amount of justifications for everything you’ve found and explanations of what you’re researching and why. Only in these cases can someone build upon your work. Try to imagine that you’re studying the problems that beginning teachers face at secondary schools, i.e. basically when they leave their university desks, diplomas in hand, and go to teach at secondary level. But, you’ve forgotten to state where you’ve situated your research – whether in the Czech Republic, Sweden or maybe Cameroon. It’s clear that these problems will be completely different. Research like this doesn’t make much sense, but it could make a nice article in a magazine or other serious media outlet. In a scientific text, however, you have to state exactly who you see as a beginning teacher, how you’ll be researching them, how you’ll choose them (as you can’t study all of them), etc.
For a scientific text, transparency is a fundamental requirement, as it points to the purpose of a scientific text – it is a tool of scientific communication. But, this doesn’t have to mean that it will be unreadable or boring. For example, the book “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things” is perhaps one of the most significant books on cognitive linguistics ever written (it’s about how language functions in relation to corporality and the environment that it develops in). But, despite this fact, Lakoff chose a catchy name and a relatively free essay-like style to write his work. In doing this, however, he is all the more careful to show his whole working method. This is generally called the Anglo-Saxon writing style, which is freer and more readable that the so-called German style, which is very formal and stringent.
You might know Ernest Rutherford and his student Niels Bohr from the field of physics. When Bohr wrote his text with the model of an atom, he let his teacher read it. He leafed through the text and said: “Niels, this is interesting, but it’s terribly long… no one’s going to read this.” Bohr then asked Rutherford to find a single sentence in the text that he could omit, which his teacher failed to do. And so the article (in three parts, as journals have length limitations for papers) made its way to the journal.
This episode shows us several important things. Firstly, we won’t always agree on the style we’re writing in. With scientific texts, however, a clear and transparent approach is more important than readability. While you could omit sentences from a novel almost at random and it would still make sense, this usually isn’t possible with a scientific text.
At the same time, we’ve come to the reason for writing a scientific text at all – we want to use it to say something to others – something that will develop the knowledge we have of a certain thing. That’s why it might seem like research is being done on tiny or obscure topics. This, however, is because we have a certain problem that we don’t know much about, and studying this odd bit of information often allows us to understand it and also other studies.
To conclude, we’d like to point out some things we should be careful of in scientific texts:
- Clarity of terms – we don’t have to be as strict as Carnap or Neurath and define every single word we use (which leads nowhere), but we should try to explain the basic terms we’re using with as much detail as possible. Each person can understand these words differently and lose the opportunity to understand what we’re trying to convey.
- Clarity of methods – it has to be clear how and why we’re taking certain steps; each one should be justified and clearly described.
- Reacting to gaps in knowledge – we always write because there’s a certain unknown factor – something that isn’t clear, or something that we didn’t know about the world until now. And we try to explain this in a suitable way.